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Restaurant Week and the Power of We

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NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2009 is upon us. New Yorkers and visitors alike love the tradition of Restaurant Week because it offers diners the opportunity to enjoy more than 250 participating restaurants -- including some of the city's most notable -- at a bargain price. And let's face it, today everyone is looking not only for a bargain but for value and a price fixe lunch at NOBU for $24.07 certainly fits the bill.

But what also excites me about Restaurant Week is that it's a great example of how competitors can work together to achieve great results for all. Restaurants are tough businesses. These establishments ordinarily compete fiercely with one another for patrons. Yet during Restaurant Week they become allies helping promote dining out in general and supporting one of New York City's great assets: our diverse and delicious culinary experiences.

So how did restaurants set aside their competitive nature to come together in this way?

The origin of Restaurant Week dates back to 1992 when New York hosted the Democratic National Convention. Tim Zagat (of the eponymous Zagat Guides) and I, along with several others, wanted to highlight the City's gastronomic gems and encourage the visitors to sample and enjoy them. Restaurants that signed up agreed to offer a special prix fixe lunch whose price matched the year of this national political event's arrival in our city -- $19.92. Originally, some restaurants were highly circumspect about costs and a group promotion such as this one.

But the proof that partnerships really do matter was in the success. People came out in droves, tried restaurants they hadn't before, and spread the word about the culinary treasures throughout the city.

The effort was so successful that it became an annual tradition. Under the direction of NYC & Company (the City's official tourism marketing agency), the number of participating restaurants grew each year. The price did as well -- $19.93 in '93, $19.94 in '94, etc. Eventually the pricing scale was altered with creative thinking and promotion for our city always in mind. When we wanted to highlight our city's unified bid to win the 2012 Olympics, the prix fixe was $20.12 and today you can get an incredible meal at lunch for $24.07 (dinner is $35), illuminating the pace of the city that never sleeps: NYC is open 24/7.

The promotion has become so popular that it is expanded this summer to three weeks from July 12th to July 31st. There is an economic benefit for the restaurateurs, for the city, and a charitable component as well. In 2008, the Summer and Winter Restaurant Weeks generated an incremental $6.4 million to the restaurant industry and also contributed $50,000 to City Harvest, the nonprofit organization that annually collects 26 million pounds of excess food from all segments of the food industry, including the city's restaurants. Each week, City Harvest helps over 260,000 hungry New Yorkers find their next meal.

Restaurant Week is first and foremost about the food and the dining experience it offers at a more affordable price. But it is also about the power of partnerships -- a great example of how businesses, possibly reluctant at first, can successfully join in a common cause thereby benefiting themselves, their industry, and the community at large. It's the Power of We at work.

So far all you New Yorkers and those who plan to visit in July, go to www.nycgo.com for a complete listing of participating restaurants and make your reservations today.

Jonathan Tisch is Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels, Co-Chairman of the Board for Loews Corp. and host of television's Beyond the Boardroom with Jonathan Tisch